104. Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi

Source: Amazon.com

Kenda Mutongi, a professor of history at MIT, writes about the development of the matatu bus business amid the backdrop of a developing country with all the inevitable problems associated with a neophyte nation.

She tells of the ingenuity and tenacity of Nairobi’s mwanainchi (true citizens) despite the racist policies, economic oppression, and political corruption that permeated their world.

Though I lack even the tiniest bit of knowledge concerning urban development, Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi offered me a way to navigate the socioeconomic and political themes that play out in a newly developing, fast growing city.

I’m captivated by today’s matatu culture. Perhaps that’s why Professor Mutongi’s book, which might otherwise have been a long, laborious educational workshop was, for me, a fascinating adventure.
The professor describes how Nairobi’s rapid growth ran in parallel with the evolution of the matatu transport business, as she chronicles both events from the time Britain relinquished colonial control, on into the twenty-first century. The two processes intertwine so completely that her claim that the success of one could not have happened without the success of the other, appears indisputable.

Matatu: A History doesn’t read like a dry, slow-moving textbook, but rather an engrossing tale of exploding urbanization, poverty, racism, bribery and exploitation, along with entrepreneurship, upward mobility, artistic expression, pop culture and a city’s sputtering lurch toward democracy.
It’s all there for the reader to absorb.


Need something lighter?
Try The Matatu by Eric Walters.

Source: Amazon.com, Children’s Africana Book Award

From the Forward by Ruth Kaytha, Director of The Creation of Hope

“Every culture has its own folktales and stories.
Among the Kamba of Kikima, Kenya there is a story told about animals and matatus. Eric Walters and I were driving around when I told him a brief version of the story about the goat, the sheep and the dog. He decided to expand it and create a picturebook.
We believe Kamba stories should be told by members of our tribe. In June of 2009, Eric was made a Kamba elder. It is only fitting that Eric has expanded and retold this Kamba story, as we consider him one of our own.”

102. Matatus, Art on Wheels

A number of internet sites warn tourists against using Nairobi’s matatus, citing their utter disregard for traffic laws, lurking pickpockets and eager conmen.
Other travel guides tout the buses’ quirkiness, with one detailing how to take kids on a tour of Nairobi using matatus as the singular mode of transportation.

I’m not remotely interested in cars of any kinda, but I became fascinated with these mobile works of art, and quickly found myself caught up in the matatu culture.

Source: Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi, pg. 28, 1964 Matatu





Matatus started as rickety, wired-together junkyard vans and pickups with wooden benches meant to accommodate commuters and farm animals. They were merely functional (when they functioned!).
They have evolved into luxury mini buses blaring hip-hop music out into the streets while sporting snappy slogans and images of popular national and international stars. They are now fashionable as well as functional.

Source: efe.com

Each matatu is built entirely from scratch, usually from the stripped chassis of a new truck. Fabricators weld the skeletons and attach the side panels.

Upholsterers often work in tandem with the fabricators.
Wiring for souped-up speakers and high definition TVs is installed.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is airbrushmatatu.jpg
Source: William Oeri (Nairobi), Graffiti artists put finishing touches to a matatu at the Dodi Body Builders garage.


Once the blank canvas is ready, matatu artists embellish the buses with graffiti and bold designs, covering them with images of movie stars, politicians, religious icons, cartoon characters, war heroes and humanitarian champions. A customized paint job can easily cost up to $20,000.

Source: Kenya CitizensTV, YouTube

Sarafina Mumbi is a young Nairobi woman who is using her talents to break into the male dominated graffiti business. She began breaking ground as Kenya’s only female matatu artist in 2013. Despite overt prejudice and ill-treatment, she is now creating some of the most colorful matatus on the road.

Part of her break-through into this multi-million dollar industry was due to a 14-seat bus, commissioned by UNICEF, that she painted for International Women’s Day 2018. The text and images on that bus promoted Women’s Empowerment.

Source: CNN Inside Africa Feature, Matwana Matatu Culture, YouTube (10:22)



The matatu industry is a source of employment for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly youths. It employs garage, car wash and parking lot attendants, welders, system engineers, car dealers, upholsterers, drivers, conductors, mechanics and, of course, graffiti artists. 
Matatus aren’t simply modes of transportation.
These Art Galleries on Wheels are a way of life.

101. Matatus

– “The best word to describe Nairobi traffic? HECTIC! After hectic, it is CRAZY.”
– “You know you’re in Nairobi when the main topic of conversation is the terrible traffic . . .”
– “Woe unto you if any part of your day involves getting from one side of the city to the other.”

Comments like these pop up whenever a newspaper, internet site or travel book discusses transportation in the city of Nairobi.

In September 2019, Nairobi was ranked as the fourth most congested city in the world,
an improvement over its 2017 second place ranking.

Ocholla, Margareta. Rush Hour in Nairobi, National Museum of Kenya. 1998, Nairobi National Museum.

Knowing we’ll be visiting several tourist sites while in Nairobi, I looked into public transportation. Along with taxis, Uber, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), motorcycle taxis (piki pikis) and city-run buses, there are privately owned vehicles called matatus.

Matatus are minibuses that weave and bounce around the city, blaring music and displaying 60s psychedelic-like art as they nimbly steer alternate routes, connecting the city more adeptly and more frequently than other types of transportation. Turning a blind eye to reckless driving, they’re able to dodge traffic jams, something only the single-seat motorcycle taxi can emulate. They’re cheap too, costing no more than $1.50 to go just about anywhere in the city. And they run well after dark.

Each matatu, as required by law, has a crew of two; a driver and a conductor.
The driver’s job is to get the passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible. If that means driving on the wrong side of the road, speeding down a busy street, or reeling around blind up-hill corners, so be it.


The conductor performs many tasks, acting as a circus barker beckoning commuters to choose his bus, collecting fares and signaling the driver when to pick up or drop off passengers. He does all this while he hangs outside the matatu, even when it’s moving.

It is estimated that there are 18 thousand matatus connecting every inch of the city.

Individual matatu buses and routes are privately owned and operated, which means schedules and ticket prices can change at the whim of whoever’s in charge.
Pick up and drop off points are called stages. It’s best to locate your boarding stage well in advance if you’re new to the city.
Even finding the right stop can be tricky. As one travel book put it, “You just kind of have to know.” If you choose the wrong line, you could waste half a day on an already long trip.

As with any free market, price alone is not enough to attract customers, particularly the youth. Competition among matatu owners is high. They need to ensure their minibuses are top notch, spending up to $70,000 for the over-the-top amenities alone.



Matatus offer high speed internet connections and comfortable seats. (Seatbelts are now required by law.) Many have flat screen TVs, both inside and out, that continually play movies, music videos and sporting events. Some provide power sockets and USB outlets at every seat. iPads are available upon request. There are even Matatus with disco balls, fish aquariums and airline-type TVs on the back of every seat.

Source: efe.com




For longer trips outside the city, matatu owners have introduced hostesses, who offer services like those you might expect on a plane or train, carrying luggage or lounge waitressing.

Matatu culture is loved and loathed in equal measure.
Some prefer the less pimped up versions, hoping to avoid the mayhem of loud music and questionable driving, but the urban youth continue to view them as part of their African identity.

100. The Carnivore Restaurant

The Carnivore is an open-air restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya.
It’s specialty is meat, and features an all-you-can-eat meat buffet.

Source: mapio.net

The Carnivore is reported to be touristy.
Mincing no words, many travelers have labeled it a full-fledged Tourist Trap.

But if you’re interested in a lively dining atmosphere perpetuated by an out-going staff, it’s said to be the place to go (at least once, just to say you’ve been). They serve ox balls there, which sort of makes attendance mandatory.

Source: Tripadvisior




Famous more for the presentation than for the food itself, the meat is skewered on Maasai swords, roasted over a coal pit, carved table side and served on cast-iron plates.

The Carnivore opened its doors in 1980 and became an instant success. It was praised for its game meat and the unique experience it offered.
The UK magazine Restaurant named it one of the “World’s Best 50 Restaurants” in 2002 and 2003.
The following year Kenya imposed a much-praised ban on the sale of game meat and there were fears that the restaurant might go under, yet it remained a popular tourist destination.
Nowadays, it serves the meat of domestic animals, including rumps of beef, legs of lamp and pork, racks of ribs, sausages and chicken wings, as well as ostrich, camel and crocodile meat.
It does have a vegetarian option for those who are forced into attendance.

Source: Tripadvisor



Both lunch and dinner include salad, soup and a range of side dishes, followed by desserts and Kenyan coffee.





And, of course, there’s the famous Dawa.

Take 126 matatu from the town center in daylight hours and walk the 1km from the main road. (There’s a signpost just past the Wilson Airport.)
At all other times, take a taxi.
11:30 am to 11:00 pm

99. From Nat’l Geographic Photography Newsletter

The following is taken in part from an article in National Geographic’s Photography Newsletter, April 24, 2020.

The New Big Five


Years ago, colonial game hunters created a list of five of the toughest animals to hunt and kill on foot. Forever after, the list became known as The Big 5.
It’s time to reorient our notions of The Big 5 and highlight the struggles that so many animals must endure to simply survive.

Source: NewBigFive.com

The New Big 5 is an international initiative to create a new list of five endangered wild animals from all over the world. The list will be The New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography.

Source: graeme-green.com


The world’s wildlife is in crisis. The next ten years are critical.
Moved by a sense of urgency and love for his subjects, Graeme Green, a British photographer, journalist and travel writer, created The New Big 5 project.

The project is a celebration of wildlife photography, and it pushes for recording with a camera instead of shooting with a gun.

More than a million species are currently at risk of extinction, from large mammals like elephants and polar bears, to the “unsung heroes” and little-known frogs, cats, birds, lizards and other species, each too valuable to lose.

The New Big 5 of wildlife photography might include koalas and orangutans, or tigers and grizzly bears, or sloths and pangolins or any other animal from any continent on earth whose future existence is in doubt.

Source: NewBigFive.com



With the support of Jane Goodall and 100 of the world’s top photographers, New Big 5 is asking everyone to vote.
Before compiling the list, the creators want YOUR INPUT.

Use the link below to vote for your favorite five animals.

 
Cast your ballot for your favorite five animals.

Source: YouTube

98. Friday’s Flyer: Birds Everywhere

Consider Them All*

Source: Public Radio International, Photo credit:Amir Cohen/Reuters

There are roughly 11,000 species of birds in the world.
During this week in which we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it is especially alarming to hear that nearly 40 percent of the world’s birds are facing significant decline.
Among the threats to these creatures are habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and severe weather, plastic and pesticide pollution and illegal trafficking.

Source: The Newsstand.com, Clemson University


Despite Covid-19’s grip all around the world, professor, author and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham finds that birds give us one of the best tools we have for coping in today’s oppressive environment: hope.
When speaking of his bird/hope connection, Lanham will sometimes cite a first line of Emily Dickinson. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”

In 2018, Lanham was the recipient of the National Audubon’s Lufkin Prize for his tireless advocacy to protect birds, his lifelong dedication to environmental health and his efforts in building a new generation of conservation leaders.

Some might view an Earth Day celebration amid a worldwide pandemic as a nonsensical, pointless exercise, but Dr. Lanham sees an optimistic future from back of his binoculars.
He observes his beautiful birds, knowing that the things they need to survive (clean air, pure water and healthy, balanced ecosystems) are the same things upon which people rely. So he continues the work of protecting our planet, believing that it is a solid, smart investment that will pay off for generations.

Source: The Nature Conservancy, On Earth Day, Nature is a Part of Us


“Conservation really means feeling deeply enough for something that you’re willing to save some for others. I think the word for that is ‘love’. And I think conservation is ultimately an act of love.” – J. Drew Lanham, PhD

Birds symbolize wisdom. Just ask an owl.
Birds define grace and strength. Watch as they lock their outstretched wings and soar effortlessly overhead.
Birds epitomize freedom, migrating to where they please, when they please.
Birds are our first musicians, and they all play a different tune.
They’re our link between heaven and earth.

We should be doing a better job maintaining that link.

“Stop and listen for the birds,” instructs Lanham. “If you can’t hear the birds, something is amiss.”


Source: The Nature Conservancy, Birds are Why He Flies Free and Stays Hopeful, YouTuve (Time: 2:47)

* Why feature all birds?

It’s Earth Day Week. That’s why.

BirdLive International is on a campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right.

In an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Birdlife International marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right.
The letter calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.

97. Poachers Kill More Rhinos as Coronavirus Halts Tourism

Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020
By Annie Roth

Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.

A two-month old seated rhino is rescued in a Rhino 911 helicopter on March 8.

In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.

These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife.
South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.

This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.

Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but
now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.

Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.

Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled.
Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.

If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.


In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.

C-20. Poachers Kill More Rhinos as Coronavirus Halts Tourism

Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020
By Annie Roth

Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.

A two-month old seated rhino is rescued in a Rhino 911 helicopter on March 8.

In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.

These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife.
South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.


This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.

Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but
now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.


Besides empty parks, no tourists mean no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.

Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled.
Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.

If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.


In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.

96. Is It Really a Happy Anniversary?

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

For the occasion, National Geographic created its first-ever “flip” issue – essentially two magazines in one.
With an eye on the today’s world environment, National Geographic examines the trajectory of The Earth’s health 50 years into the future. Half of the magazine’s pages present a hopeful scenario, while half lay out a truly dark destiny.

The editors refer to this issue as “magazines of divergent realities.”

National Geographic magazine cover (back and front), April 2020

One side celebrates the optimistic view of Planet Earth’s future health in which the peoples of the world have harnessed technologies to feed a larger population, provide energy for all, prevent the extinction of plants and animals and start reversing climate change.

Spirit-lifting articles and stunning images tell of the ingenuity and persistence used to find innovative solutions to the planet’s biggest problems.

There are several pages devoted to introducing a generation of conservationists who are set to take up the environmental torch.

Progress seems inevitable.


When the reader turns the magazine over, a Dooms Day view is presented. There are stories of the flooding of Venice and low-lying U.S. coastal cities, massive fires that wipe out entire towns, longer droughts, deadlier heat waves, disappearing species, and scared, strip-mined landscapes.

Source: National Geographic
One of several “super pit cluster” coal mines in Australia. It operates 365 days a year. The owner is considering expansion.
The Golden Crowned Crane is one of the animals we are destine to lose forever.




Humans are changing the planet – and not always for the good.

Questions remain.
How far have we come to date?
How far can we go?
Is it already too late?

So, is it really a happy anniversary?

95. Bringing Rhinos Back from the Dead

In 2008, Africa’s Northern White Rhinos were considered extinct in the wild.
In the years that followed, the situation got worse.
But scientists had a plan.

PHASE 1: GATHER UP THOSE THAT REMAIN

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, at the base of Mt. Kenya, houses the only 2 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world: Fatu, 30, and her daughter Najin, 19.

They live there under 24-hour armed guard.

Source: Ol Pejeta Facebook Page, Releasing Fatu out into her ancestral grounds.

In 2009, they were moved to Ol Pejeta, along with two males, Suni and Sudan, from a zoo in the Czech Republic.
Of the eight Northern Whites left in the world, these four rhinos were thought to be the most fertile.

The rhinos were packed in special wooden crates built to support their weight for the flight to Kenya.

But first they had to be crate trained so that they’d enter the crates on their own. Those of us with dogs know how easy that must have been!

The rhinos were moved to the conservancy in hopes that a natural environment would encourage them to mate and reproduce.
They did mate. They did not reproduce.

Source: Twitter, Peter and Jacob with Najin and Fatu



It was discovered that neither of the females were able to carry a calf.
Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she became pregnant.

Wildlife ranger Zacharia Mutai comforts Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, moments before he passed away. Photo by Ami Vitale

A final blow was delivered in 2018 when Sudan, the last remaining male, had to be euthanized.

While Sudan’s death was devastating, scientists were prepared.
An international consortium of scientists and conservationists had been collecting and freezing semen from Northern White Rhino bulls for years.

Source: Nat’l Geographic, Partially anesthetized, Fatu is guided gently onto a soft sand bedding before being fully anesthetized for the procedure.

At the same time, the team was devising an in vitro fertilization process for the endangered whites (where an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body).

This was an amazing undertaking. Artificial insemination had successfully produced white rhino calves, but in vitro fertilization had never been completed with rhinos before. 

PHASE TWO: HARVESTING THE EGGS

In August of last year, the team was able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes (immature eggs), five from Najin and five from Fatu. Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch. The cost in time and research was in the millions of euros.

Source: BBC.com

The eggs, which cannot be frozen, were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to eventually be fertilized with the frozen sperm from four deceased males.

PHASE THREE: FERTILIZING EGGS

From the ten eggs, two embryos were created in September 2019, and the third was created in December. The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen, with conservationists planning to implant them in a southern white rhino surrogate mother in the future.

PHASE FOUR: SET THE STAGE FOR A ROMANTIC ENCOUNTER

One of the things the scientists are struggling to work out is the timing to implant the embryo. They need to know exactly when the female’s body is best ready for the embryo to attach to the uterus lining.

Scientists are hoping that the chances of the surrogate carrying the pregnancy through to birth may be increased if they implant the embryo right after she has mated.

An adolescent southern white rhino rolls in mud at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya
Source: Ol Pejeta Website

This hunch has led them to set the scene for the next stage in their elaborate plan. 
Four wild female southern white rhinos have been enclosed with their offspring in their natural habitat.

The next step is to put a sterilized southern white rhino in with the females (would-be surrogates). As soon as they see the sterilized bull mounting, they dart the female, put the embryo in and hope for the best.

A female southern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya
one of these rhinos could stop a species from going extinct

In the best case scenario, only a handful of calves may be born from Najin and Fatu’s eggs, and the lack of genetic diversity between the half-siblings could make it impossible to create a viable breeding population. 
To tackle that problem, stem cell research will have to be done, and that brings up the question of medical ethics. Nothing is easy about this entire operation.

If all this work miraculously produces babies, the first northern white rhino to be born should be named Lazarus.

Who woulda thunk it?

94. African Rhinos – Black and White

Rhinoceroses are large herbivorous animals
identified by their characteristic horned snouts.

Source: San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy



They have been living on Earth for nearly 12 million years.
Although they were probably a lot woollier back then.

The woolly rhinoceros is thought to have died out 10,000 years ago.

There are five species of rhino.
Two species, the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are native to Africa.

Source: Travel4Wildlife.com

There is actually very little color difference between black rhinos and white rhinos.
They are both dark grey in color.
The color of both species can vary greatly depending on local soil conditions, as all rhinos tend to roll about in the dust and mud.


Rhinos like to wallow in mud in order to create a protective layer on their sensitive skin. This prevents sunburn and insect bites, and helps to keep them cool.

Source: Animal Facts Encyclopedia

The white rhino is the larger of the two African species. They can grow to 6 feet in height and weigh more than 5,000 lbs. Appropriately, a group of rhinos is called a crash.

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Typically, rhinos live in crashes of 3 – 10, relying on each other for protection.
Black rhinos are solitary animals and must take responsibility for their own well-being. They tend to be the more aggressive of the two species.







African rhinos only have hair on their ears, tail tips and eyelashes.


Rhinos have three toes, making their closest relatives tapirs, zebras and horses.
They have poor eyesight, but a heightened sense of smell and an excellent sense of hearing.

Source: Exploring Africa


While out on safari, one of the ways to distinguish between the black rhino and the white rhino is by looking at the animal’s top lip.

Source: Phil Perry

A black rhino has a specialized (prehensile) upper lip that is capable of grasping and browsing.

A browser is a herbivore that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. A browser does not feed on grass or other low growing vegetation.)




The white rhino has a wide, flat upper lip that’s perfect for grazing. (A grazer is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation. You know, they graze just like cows and sheep.)


Both species have two horns which are made of tightly woven filaments of keratin, not bone. Keratin is a protein found in human hair, fingernails and animal hooves.
The horns are not attached to its skull.

The longest horn on record belonged to a white rhino and measured just under five feet. 

Rhinos need to drink once a day, so they stay within 5 km of water. In very dry conditions, they can dig for water using their forefeet.



Rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Remarkable recoveries have been seen over the past ten years for several species, including the black rhino in Africa but poaching remains the largest threat. Until just months ago, only two Northern White Rhino remained in the world.

93. The No. 1 Souvenir

Souvenirs aren’t really my thing. They used to be, but I simply have too much junk nowadays. Can’t imagine adding to it.
When I do buy, I’m careful to only buy items that I’m absolutely, positively sure I’ll use when the trip is over.

Except . . . there is this one item I’ll never use when I return home, and it is Number 1 on my Souvenir List.


I hope to purchase the wooden walking stick I’ll be using on my trek to see the gorillas.

Nothing fancy. Just an ordinary stick.

I imagine I’ll have to finagle a way to get it on the plane home. Once there, I’ll hang it on my wall and let the memories flash before me whenever I look upon it.

92. My Land is Kenya

According to a not too recent Weekend Edition on NPR, Kenyans are crazy about country music.
They enjoy songs from the 70s and 80s best, and are particularly fond of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.
As much as you’re apt to hear Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle and Vince Gill playing in the local bars,
Kenyans don’t follow U.S. country singers exclusively.

Source: pangesprogressedux, Roger Whittaker – My Land is Kenya, YouTube (Time: 3:55)

“My Land is Kenya,” by Nairobi-born folk artist Roger Whittaker, makes even the young hip-hop crowd stand a little bit taller. (If you take time to watch and listen to the video, you’ll note that his signature whistling skills come through loud and clear.)

The song isn’t in danger of becoming a hit in my house anytime soon,
but it does have some nice lines:

“My land is Kenya, so warm and wild and green.
You’ll always stay with me here in my heart.
My land is Kenya, right from your highlands to the sea.
You’ll always stay with me here in my heart, here in my heart.”
(Whittaker. Roger Whittaker in Kenya: A Musical Safari, 1982)

Try not to compare it to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and just think of it as a musical warmup to today’s rather boring topic.


My Land is Kenya
and it’s covered with more than savanna grasslands.

Source: Quartz Africa

FORESTLANDS

Kenya Forest



While providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.

Sadly, Kenya is still allowing its forests to disappear.
From 1990 to 2015, forest cover declined by 25%.

CROPLANDS

Croplands in Kenya





Agricultural cropland refers to that share of land suited for crops where there is no need to replant after harvest (e.g. coffee, rubber, fruit trees, etc.). Cropland has increased exponentially in the last 25 years.

WETLANDS

The Kenyan wetlands are resources of great economic, cultural and scientific value.

Wetlands provide critical habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna, including a large number of aquatic plants, resident and migratory birds, fish, and herbivores. 

Wetlands are areas of great scenic beauty. They are a tourist attraction, form important recreation sites for game and birds watching, swimming, photography and sailing.




They’re important sources of water for human consumption, agriculture and the watering of livestock. They recharge wells and springs that are often the only source of water to some rural communities.

GRASSLANDS


Savanna grasslands are found where rainfall between 20-50 inches is concentrated into a few months.

Kenya’s rainy season is March-May and September–October, with long periods of drought in between.
Once it rains in March, the grasses grow very rapidly, sometimes as much as an inch a day. Lots of animals are born at this time. In a good rainy season, there’s plenty of food for animals like the antelope, and mothers will have plenty of milk for their young.

SETTLEMENTS

In Kenya there are only three incorporated cities but there are numerous municipalities and towns with significant urban populations.

NAIROBI, THE CAPITAL CITY

Source: Text and image provided by the Kenya Embassy in Belgium

Nairobi, the capital city of the Republic has grown from a simple Uganda Railway construction camp to a modern center of commercial, financial, manufacturing and tourist destination in eastern Africa.

It replaced Mombasa as Kenya’s capital in 1907 and became a city in 1950. Today, the city population stands at about 4 million. Both the Great North Road (Cairo to Cape Town) and the Trans-African Highway (Mombasa to Lagos) pass through the city.

MOMBASA

Source: Text and image provided by the Kenya Embassy in Belgium

Mombasa is the second largest city in the country, with a population of about 600,000. It is the official gateway to the country by sea. It has a history dating back to more than 2,000 years, when the Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans visited the East African Coast and carried out trade between the Coast and the Mediterranean Lands.

It is built on what was formerly an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel until a causeway was built at the beginning of this century, connecting the island with the mainland. Tourists come to Mombasa Island to enjoy its calm beauty, once described by Winston Churchill (1908) as “alluring and delicious”.

91. Friday’s Flyer: White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird

White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird *

I can answer that question.
The White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird gets its name from the distinctive call it uses when it feels threatened — g’way, g’way!


Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous. Didn’t know that, did you?

Let me explain. Zygodactyly is an arrangement of digits in birds with two toes facing forward and two back.
Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous, meaning their fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth.

The bill is black in the male, pea-green in the female. They often have prominent crests and long tails. 

The White-Bellied Go-Away Bird feeds on fruits, flowers, nectar, leaves and seed pods.  It’s considered a pest in some regions, raiding orchards and plantations of fruiting trees and vegetable crops.

 Why feature the White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird?

Now, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious about a bird whose official name is Go-Away?

90. Kahawa *

Kenya Coffee is widely considered to be among the best coffees in the world.

Kenya’s perfect coffee growing climate, rich soil and wet processing method combine to produce the finest beans.
It would stand to reason that Kenyans are enjoying their coffee all across the country – morning, noon and night.

Yet Kenyans, who were once citizens of the former British Kenya Colony, have inherited The Crown’s preference for tea rather than coffee.

Still, one can find some highly recommended coffee houses in the country’s capital.
The following cafes were approved on several sites (among them, Robert Omgija, at travelstartblog, Corlena Bailey at Culture Trip, Tripadvisor, YouTube, Foursquare and Yelp).


Nairobi Java House
One of the first coffee shops in Nairobi and home to one of Kenya’s best hand-roasted coffees is Nairobi Java House.
Apparently, it’s Nairobi’s answer to Starbucks.
From its website:
Java House opened its first store in 1999 at Adam’s Arcade in Nairobi. With the aim of introducing gourmet coffee drinking culture in Kenya, the first outlet was a coffee shop and later the brand evolved to an American diner style restaurant to its present-day status as a 3 -day part coffee-led, casual dining concept.”
Nairobi Java House, ABC Pl., Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, Kenya,
+254 20 350 4468

Artcaffe Coffee and Bakery
From its website:
Artcaffe is a full service bakery, coffee shop, bar and casual dining restaurant,open daily from 7am to midnight that targets customers of all ages who care about quality, ambience, community and value for money in the products they consume and their experience. We freshly bake artisanal bread and pastries, we brew real Kenyan coffee, craft signature cocktails and lead the way in modern casual dining in Kenya.
Artcaffé, Westgate Mall, Mwanzi Rd, Nairobi, Kenya,
+254 725 20202, or
Artcaffé, Dagoretti Road, The Hub Shopping Mall, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 790 124892


Urban Grind Coffee & Grill
Advertised on Tripadvisor:
At Urban Grind, we pride ourselves on offering our guests:• A delicious assortment of specialty drinks, a good food selection as well as the finest coffees, including cappuccino, café au lait, latte, and mocha.
Apparently a bit off the beaten track, but worth the journey.
Urban Grind, Highway Mall Along Uhuru Highway, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 70 895 4515

Pete’s Cafe and Burrito Haven
From its website:
We are known as a coffee company before anything else. We go out of our way to source for quality coffees all over the region as each country’s coffee is unique in its own way. Our choice of a Mexican Cuisine is because we believe in great tasting, healthy and flavorful meals.
The owner of Pete’s is a former barista champion of Kenya. Seating is on a leafy outdoor patio filled with umbrellas.
Pete’s Cafe and Burrito Haven, Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong Rd, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 20 2177453


Gibsons Coffee House
This coffee house grows its own coffee.
From its website:
Our uncompromised quality of food and high level of service, attracts customers and ensures they leave with a memorable experience.
Gibsons Coffee House, Banda St., Nairobi, Kenya,
+254 728 981656

Kaldis Coffee House
Locals especially appreciate Kaldis’ breakfasts, milkshakes and coffee.
Kaldis Coffee House, Kimathi St., Nairobi, Kenya,
+254 725 00 0784


Connect Coffee
Connect Coffee is a small cafe that follows the coffee-making process from bean to brew.
From its website:
We roast coffee every day onsite and ONLY serve coffee prepared between 2-14 days. We provide a variety of extraction methods based on the coffee bean characteristic to meet customers preference and choice. From each sale of a cup of coffee we donate 5% to improve coffee farmers welfare.
Connect Coffee, The Riverfront, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 708 790480

Pointzero Coffee
From Google Guide:
Located right next to Nairobi Gallery, this is one of the most sensible meeting spots in Nairobi. It’s central but not in the bustle of the city, it’s rooted but yet seems mobile seeing as the kitchen is based on a food truck, it’s shielded from the elements yet open enough for you to feel you’re outdoors. They have a great drinks and menu, numerous choices of coffee and a very powerful Dawa for a chilly Nairobi day. It’s a place to go again and again.
Pointzero Coffee, Posta Rd / Next to Nyayo House, PO Box 5449, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 707 789376


As noted earlier, “kahawa” means “coffee” in Swahili. But, honestly, doesn’t it seem like “java” ought to be the Swahili translation?

88. Tusker – My Beer, My Country

Tusker Lager, which has a sound international market,
is the highest selling beer in East Africa.



For Kenya, Tusker is more than just a beer; it is a symbol of national pride.

What makes it stand out from the rest is the fact that its brewing ingredients are 100% Kenyan.

Tusker is truly home-made. The barley is grown in Kenya’s Rift Valley region. The spring water is from the Aberdare Mountains. The yeast is local as well.

Source: East African Arig-News



Kenya Breweries Ltd was founded by Charles and George Hurst in 1922. Originally, the beer was produced in small copper vessels heated by firewood. Bottling was done by hand.

The first 10 cases of beer were delivered by an ox-drawn cart to Nairobi’s Stanley Hotel (currently called the Sarova Stanley) in 1923. That same year, George was killed by an elephant in a hunting accident. In a slightly twisted tribute to his brother, Charles named the first beer brewed “Tusker”.






The company’s early slogan was
“Baada ya Kazi burudika
na Tusker”
(After work, relax with a bottle of Tusker).  

Today’s more commonly used slogan is
Bia yangu, Nchi yangu” which means
“My beer, My country.”


At present, the brand commands over 30% of the country’s total beer market.

You many want to asked to have it served  baridi—cold.
If you don’t ask, it will arrive warm.

87. What’s a Dawa?

Dawa, the de facto national drink of Kenya, is a mixture of honey, lime, sugar, ice, and vodka. It’s popularity is such that virtualy every restaurant and bar in Kenya has it on the menu.



The star ingredient is honey, which is fitting for a country with a long history of traditional beekeeping.

The Dawa cocktail was first mixed together and served at The Carnivore in Nairobi, back in 1980 when the restaurant first opened its doors.

Dr. Dawa travels from table to table wearing a 1920s cigarette girl-inspired tray carrying the libation’s necessities while wearing a feathered hat similar to those worn by African witch doctors.



Dawa means “medicine” in Swahili, but Samson Kivelenge (a.k.a. “Dr. Dawa”), who is credited with naming the cocktail, does not claim it possesses healing properties.

Still, a Dawa does seem to act as an effective rejuvenating tonic in Kenya’s hot weather.

Dawa comes with its own accessory, a chunky wooden (or plastic) Dawa stick.



Basically, the Dawa stick is a honey-coated swizzle stick that is occasionally carved at the head, or decorated with famous beadwork of the country’s Maasai people. It comes wrapped in honey.
You use it to stir your drink and the honey dissolves with the rest of the ingredients.

These days the Dawa is sipped at sunset across East Africa in a time-honored happy-hour tradition.

The best way to end a safari day is with a beautiful sunset and drink – an activity that’s known as a sundowner.
Make mine a honey drink.


DAWA RECIPE

2 teaspoons white sugar or 1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 fluid ounces vodka
(1 or 2 shots)

crushed ice cube

1 whole lime, quarter with skin on

3/4 cup lime juice

1 Dawa stick*, twisted in creamed honey or 2 tablespoons of honey

 *You can replace the Dawa stick with a popsicle stick or spoon.

Put lime and sugar into a whiskey tumbler.
Crush lime slices slightly, add ice and pour in the vodka.
Add the lime juice.

Twist a Dawa stick into some honey and add the stick to the drink. Use the stick to stir the drink.

The more you crush the limes into the mixture and stir with the honey stick, the sweeter your Dawa will taste.

Source: Food.com

86. Maasai Watchband

Apple Watchband Fanatics switch their watchbands when given even the slightest excuse to do so.
An African safari certainly seems justification enough to make the old switch-aroo.


When I spotted this beaded band on Etsy,
I knew it would be a great accessory for my trip.

It arrived a couple of weeks ago, and as much as I like it, I find the wide leather backing and all those beads get mighty weighty by the end of the day.
Fun? Yes. Practical in the African heat? I think not.
It will be nice as an accent piece, worn now and then to complement the day’s outfit, but it won’t be joining me on the flight to Nairobi.*


Still, there’s reason to take heart.

I’ve found 3 silicone replacements.

*I’m old. Old people lean toward elastic waistbands and sensible shoes, as well as light-weight watchbands.

RUNNING LIST OF ITEMS
purchased in preparation for the Kenya/Uganda trip
(some I may use again, some probably not)

utility work gloves
nylon gaiters
Money Belt
Humangear GoTubbs
hiking boots
water shoes
AfriSocks
wide brimmed hat
knit beanie with light
BUFF
African-patterned watchbands

85. Coronavirus Kills Demand for Kenya’s Flowers

Kenya is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world.

Source: Bloomberg.com, Workers measure roses at a production company in Naivasha, Kenya. Photographer: Andrew Renneisen

Famed for being long-lasting, Kenya’s roses, carnations and summer flowers are popular in the UK, Russia and the U.S.
The country’s flower power is attributed to its sunny climate, which enables high-quality blossoms to be grown year-round without the need for expensive-to-run greenhouses.

Kenya also has excellent transport links to Europe through Nairobi’s airport, which has a terminal dedicated specifically to the transport of flowers and vegetables. This means that delicate floral cargo can be shifted from growers to consumers swiftly.

In March, with plans to increase their share of the U.S. market, several growers showcased their blooms at the World Floral Expo in the U.S.

Just days later, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Farmers in Kenya are now having to leave their roses to rot.
Flower farms in Kenya are dumping about 50 tons of flowers daily.

Farms are exporting only 20% of the cut flowers that they would normally send daily to markets including the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany. The rest are being destroyed.
The industry is being forced to cut wages and trim its workforce of more than 150,000 people.

C18 – Coronavirus Kills Demand for Kenya’s Flowers

Kenya is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world.
Famed for being long-lasting, Kenya’s roses, carnations and summer flowers are popular in the UK, Russia and the U.S.

Source: Bloomberg.com, Workers measure roses at a production company in Kenya. Photographer: Andrew Renneisen



The coronavirus has cut the demand for flowers all over Europe and the United States. Kenya’s flower industry is being forced to cut wages and trim its workforce of more than 150,000 people.

Farmers in Kenya are now having to leave their roses to rot.
Bloomberg reports that flower farms in Kenya are dumping about 50 tons of flowers daily.

Farms are exporting only 20% of the 60 tons of cut flowers that they would normally send daily to markets including the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany. The rest are being destroyed.

84. Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters *

You’re probably wondering what they eat. . . . . . . . OK, maybe not.

There are about 20 species of brightly-colored bee-eaters in Africa.

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-eaters have bright green heads, upper parts, and tails. Their chins are outlined in black. Their diet consists mainly of honeybees.
Little Bee-eaters have green upper parts, yellow throats and brown upper breasts fading to ocre on the belly. Their beaks are black. They’re the smallest of the African bee-eaters.
White-Fronted Bee-eaters have white foreheads, square taisl and a red patch on their throats. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks.

The Northern Carmine Bee-eater has bright red feathers and gathers in large colonies of hundreds or thousands of individuals. It makes quite a dazzling spectacle. In quite a few of their regional homes in Africa where the birds are known to nest in large numbers year after year, they are a major tourist attraction.


Besides eating bees, bee-eaters chow down on lots of different insects, especially wasps and hornets. Before eating their meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.
Bee-eaters don’t just fly around catching insects willy-nilly. They target a particular insect, follow the movements it makes, and hunt it down by following its twists and turns. Despite its slight appearance, its bill is quite strong and chomps down on prey insects’ hard shells with a loud snap.

Source: National Geographic Wild



Bee Eaters are a competitive bunch. To find and woo a mate, they need balance and skill.

* Why feature bee-eaters?

As it turns out, there is a tiny connection to this week’s Zebra Theme.
Bee-eaters have a habit of using large, moving animals as temporary perches. This can be any number of local animals, such as storks, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, and (?) . . . . . . . . you guessed it, zebras.
When they do this, not only does it provide them with an elevated lookout, but as other animals pass by, they stir up insects for the birds to go after as they move along.

83. From Birdlife International

The following is part of a Birdlife International Newsletter dated April 9, 2020, 7:05 am

A Look Back at BirdLife Africa’s
World Wildlife Day Celebrations 2020

The Crane Festival in Kabale Town, complete with a parade and full-on marching band

On 3 March every year, people across the world gather to raise awareness of the world’s wild flora and fauna. From films and exhibitions to nature walks and face paining, Birdlife International looked back at the diverse ways its various partnerships marked the day across Africa.
Special mention was made of the activities in Zambia, the island nation of Mauritius, Nigeria and Uganda (our last stop before returning home).

Nature Uganda, in conjunction with conservation groups and local governments celebrated World Wildlife Day with special focus on the Grey-crowned Crane. The Grey-crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird. It is facing extinction.




The celebrations included
a Conservation Conference in the Kampala,
a Crane Festival in Kabale Town,
primary school competitions
and the launch of the National Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Grey-crowned Crane.

82. Why the Stripes?

Stripes are clearly one of the zebra’s most innovative adaptations. Every pattern is unique.
Climate may have something to do with the patterns. Zoologist have found that zebras living in the cooler climates of southern Africa have stripes that are broader and farther apart than zebras living near the equator.

But why do they have stripes in the first place?
Zebra stripes are one of evolution’s great mysteries.

Over the years, scientists have suggested zebras developed stripes for camouflage in order to confuse their predators. They’ve also suggested that the stripes help lower body temperature, while some believe the striped coat evolved to repel insects.


The Bug Repellent Theory

There is some evidence to support the insect repellent theory. Using sticky plastic models with surfaces painted differently, researchers showed that zebra stripes painted onto the body can protect against biting insects. Relative to the striped mannequin, the dark brown mannequin attracted 10 times more horseflies, while the beige one lured in twice the number as the striped figure. 

Source: Mannequins with body paint, Gabor Horvath,

Researchers concluded that the stripes likely make the skin less attractive to bloodsucking horseflies. This leads scientists to support the idea that zebras developed stripes to help them avoid death by disease.


The Temperature Control Theory

A study published in June 2019 reported that biologists measured the temperatures of black and white hair stripes on zebras in Kenya. The researchers found a 12- to 15-degree-Celsius difference in temperature between the two different coat colors.

Source: Facts in Motion, Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? YouTube




In theory, the currents of air that flow over the zebra’s body are faster over the black parts and slower over the white. At the junction of these two air flows, the different speeds may create little air swirls that cool the zebra.

Raised black stripe hair on a zebra
ALISON COBB



Moreover, zebras can actually raise the black stripes separately from the white stripes. Perhaps this is their way of regulating their temperatures by adding more turbulence to the airflow over their coats.

80. Blondes and Polka Dots


Blondie

Last year, an extremely rare zebra with partial albinism was spotted in Serengeti National Park. Partial albinism means that the animal has significantly less melanin than typical zebras. As a result, stripes appear pale in color.

A few dozen partial albino zebras live on a private reserve in Mount Kenya National Park, but this sighting confirmed that at least one “golden” zebra also lives in the wild.
Zebras with this condition may be more widely distributed in and around Kenya than was previously believed.

Just One of the Gang

Polka Dots!

Early last fall, a newborn zebra foal with bizarre polka-dot markings was photographed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.

The rare black zebra foal was first spotted in early September 2019 by Antony Tira, a Maasai tour guide and wildlife photographer.
At first, Tira thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted for purposes of migration research.

After carefully studying the foal, he realized he was looking at a newborn zebra with a pigment disorder.

The zebra foal has been given the name “Tira.”

The name “Tira” was coined by the Maasai guide who first found him. There is a general rule within the park; whoever finds an animal of significance gets to name it.
No need to wonder why Mr. Tira chose that particular name.